Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged Britons to “summon the discipline and the resolve” to avoid a second national lockdown after warning there have been “too many breaches” of coronavirus rules.
In a televised address to the nation, Mr Johnson called on the public to “get through this winter together” as he set out a series of new COVID-19 restrictions.
He admitted that the disease had “started to spread again in an exponential way” and sent a stark warning of “many more deaths” if action was not taken now.
Describing coronavirus as “the single biggest crisis the world has faced in my lifetime”, Mr Johnson said that he knew the UK could succeed in pushing back the virus “because we have succeeded before”.
However, faced with a second wave of infections, the prime minister acknowledged that “while the vast majority have complied with the rules there have been too many breaches – too many opportunities for our invisible enemy to slip through undetected”.
He said that his government would continue to work “night and day” to fight to protect the public, but stressed the “single greatest weapon we bring to this fight is the common sense of the people themselves – the joint resolve of this country to work together to suppress COVID now”.
The prime minister dismissed suggestions that people should be allowed to take their own risks with coronavirus, adding: “The tragic reality of having COVID is that your mild cough can be someone else’s death knell.”
He also rejected the idea that only the elderly might isolate themselves from the risk of the disease.
“If you let the virus rip through the rest of the population it would inevitably find its way through to the elderly as well, and in much greater numbers,” Mr Johnson said.
The prime minister admitted he was “reluctant” to impose the further restrictions he had set out earlier in the day and warned that a new national lockdown would “threaten not just jobs and livelihoods but the loving human contact on which we all depend”.
But he stressed that “if people don’t follow the rules we have set out, then we must reserve the right to go further”.
“Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our individual behaviour,” he said.
“If we follow these simple rules together, we will get through this winter together. There are unquestionably difficult months to come.
“And the fight against COVID is by no means over. I have no doubt, however, that there are great days ahead.
“But now is the time for us all to summon the discipline, and the resolve, and the spirit of togetherness that will carry us through.”
The prime minister’s TV address was his third to the nation since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.
It came on the same day that another 4,926 people were confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus in the UK – the highest daily figure since 7 May.
A further 37 people have also died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19 – the highest number reported in one day since 14 July.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Johnson had announced the new COVID-19 restrictions for England in a statement to the House of Commons.
- Asking office workers to work from home again where possible – although those in key public services and in all professions where this is not possible, such as construction and retail, should continue to attend their workplaces
- From Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants must offer table service only and close at 10pm – but delivery services can remain open
- The requirement to wear a face covering has been extended to staff in retail, people in taxis and everyone using hospitality services, except when sitting down to eat or drink
- Fines for not wearing a face covering will now double to £200 for a first offence
- COVID-secure guidelines will become a legal obligation for retail, leisure and tourism firms, with those who do not comply running the risk of fines of £10,000 or closure
- From Monday, a maximum of only 15 people will be allowed to attend weddings, but 30 can still go to a funeral
- The “rule of six” has been extended to indoor sports, such as five-a-side football games
- The phased reopening of stadiums for sporting events from 1 October has been scrapped.
Speaking to MPs, the prime minister warned the new measures could last six months.
But he stressed it was “by no means a return to the full lockdown of March” and that the government was committed to keeping schools, colleges and universities open.
With the UK’s coronavirus alert level having moved back to its second-highest mark, Mr Johnson said the country had now reached “a perilous turning point” in the face of a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the prime minister that families were worried that “the government doesn’t have a strategy” and “this is a time of national crisis but we need clear leadership”.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went further than Mr Johnson by announcing a ban on people visiting other households inside their homes in Scotland.
She also revealed the Scottish government is keeping the possibility of a time-limited “circuit breaker” lockdown under review.
In her own TV address on Tuesday night, Ms Sturgeon stressed that, without a COVID-19 vaccine, “we simply can’t have 100% normality – no country can”.
She said the challenge of coronavirus “is once again getting harder” and acknowledged that the announcement of new Scotland-wide measures “must feel like a step backwards”.
But she added: “I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but this virus will pass.
“It won’t last forever and one day, hopefully soon, we will be looking back on it, not living through it.”
Northern Ireland had already banned the mixing of households indoors.
In Wales, hospitality businesses will also have to provide table service only and close at 10pm, while all off-licences and supermarkets will have to stop selling alcohol at 10pm.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “Once again, we are facing rising cases of coronavirus infections in different parts of Wales and once again we are seeing people being admitted to our hospitals with serious illnesses because of this virus.
“In the weeks and months ahead of us, there is a very real possibility we could see coronavirus regain a foothold in our local communities, towns and cities.
“None of us wants to see that happen again.”